Church and State: A Lutheran Perspective
A Statement of the Lutheran Church in America, 1966
Adopted by the Third Biennial Convention, Kansas City,
Missouri, June 21-29, 1966.
The relations between church and state in the United States and
Canada are profoundly affected by significant changes which have
been emerging in recent years in the organization of society. For
one thing, in the pluralistic structure of both nations all
religions, and the various secularistic philosophies, are claiming
and receiving equal status socially and before the law.
Furthermore, there have been dramatic changes in education and
welfare and in concepts of the role of national government in these
fields. Consequently, religious bodies, through their agencies of
education and social service, are being invited to participate more
fully than ever before in publicly sponsored programs and in the
acceptance of public financing.
These essentially new circumstances require the churches of the
United States and Canada to state in terms which are contemporary
and relevant the distinctive functions of church and state, areas
of common concern, and the possibilities and boundaries of mutual
In response to this situation the Lutheran Church in America
affirms both institutional separation and functional interaction as
the proper relationship between church and state. We hold that both
church and state, in their varied organized expressions, are
subject to the will and rule of God, who is sovereign over all
By "institutional separation" we mean that church and state must
each be free to perform its essential task under God. Thus we
reject those theories of relationship which seek the dominance
either of church over state or of state over church.
The one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church manifests itself
in the world through organized communities of Christian believers.
The church militant is both a divine organism related to Christ and
a human organization related to society. Its distinctive mission as
an ecclesiastical institution is to proclaim the Word of God in
preaching and sacraments, worship and evangelism, Christian
education and social ministry.
"Civil authority," according to the New Testament, is divinely
ordained. This does not imply that every particular government or
governor enjoys God's approval; it means rather that "civil
authority" which is manifested in the state is to be respected and
obeyed as an expression of the sovereign will of the Creator.
This forbids any state from deifying itself, for its power is
not inherent but is delegated to it by God to be employed
responsibly for the attainment of beneficial secular goals. A
government is accountable to God for the way in which it uses,
abuses, or neglects to use its powerful civil "sword." The constant
need of the state, therefore, is not for the church's uncritical
loyalty and unquestioning obedience but for the prophetic guidance
and judgment of the law of God, which the church is commanded to
proclaim, in order to be reminded of both its secular limits and
potentialities. The distinctive mission of the state is to
establish civil justice through the maintenance of law and order,
the protection of constitutional rights, and the promotion of the
general welfare of the total citizenry.
"Functional interaction" describes a process which takes place
in areas in which church and state, each in pursuit of its own
proper objectives, are both legitimately engaged. We believe that
such interaction is appropriate so long as institutional separation
is preserved and neither church nor state seeks to use its type of
involvement to dominate the other. We, therefore, reject theories
of absolute separation of church and state which would deny
practical expressions of functional interaction.
The church, solely through the free exercise of its divine
mandate, relates to the interests of the state in such ways as 1)
offering intercessory prayers on behalf of the state and its
officials; 2) encouraging responsible citizenship and government
service; 3) helping the state to understand and holding the state
accountable to the sovereign law of God; 4) contributing to the
civil consensus which supports the state in fulfillment of the
duties of just government; and 5) championing the human and civil
rights of all citizens.
The state, on the other hand, by fulfilling the duties of just
government, relates to the interests of the church in such ways as
1) guaranteeing religious liberty for all; 2) acknowledging that
the rights of humanity are not the creation of the state; 3)
maintaining an attitude of "wholesome neutrality" toward church
bodies in the context of the religious pluralism of our culture; 4)
acting on a nonpreferential basis if providing incidental benefits
in recognition of the church's civil services which also make a
secular contribution to the community; and 5) acting on a
nonpreferential basis if offering financial aid for educational or
social services which church agencies render for the secular
benefit of the community.
In summary, we affirm the sacredness of the secular life of God
s people as they worship, witness, and work in God s world. We
advocate the institutional separation and functional interaction of
church and state. This position rejects both the absolute
separation of church and state and the domination of either one by
the other, while seeking a mutually beneficial relationship in
which each institution contributes to the common good by remaining
true to its own nature and task.
This statement, addressed particularly to the situation of the
church in the United States and Canada at the present time, is not
intended to provide guidance with regard to all the issues arising
from church-state relations. Its purpose, rather, is to set forth a
basic theological stance within the context of which discussion may
continue, policies may be formulated and specific actions may be